Howard's immigration worries are realistic, not racist
Howard's immigration worries are realistic, not racist
Sir: It is a pleasure to see The Independent celebrating ethnic minority success in our society in a front page spread (25 January). However, I think you are wrong to castigate Michael Howard.
There are millions of desperately poor people in the Third World who would give anything to get to a wealthy western country to better themselves. Are you suggesting that governments have no right to place any controls on the inflow? Presumably not. Therefore it is a matter of degree and emphasis, about which we can surely disagree without the sneer of racism.
Are social tensions created by large urban concentrations of particular ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, and should one try to restrict their growth to promote greater social harmony and integration? It isn't particularly a black/white or even indigenous versus incomer problem. The tensions are sometimes between two ethnic groups already hostile in their country of origin.
Britain has by no means the worst track record for integrating ethnic minorities. If one compares London with most American cities, it is in some ways much less ghettoised. I have the impression that there is a more fluid social mix here, and that racial inter-marriage is far more common in London than almost anywhere in the US.
Let's try and cool the debate a bit.
Is there an answer to climate change?
Sir: Your report "Countdown to global catastrophe" (24 January) highlights the gravity of climate change, caused by human society dumping over twice as much invisible carbon into the atmosphere as nature can absorb. Solutions will only come from making carbon visible in our lives.
Every product and service must have a label with its carbon rating. The new EU Buildings Directive will require this for public buildings. Primary energy sources - fuel bills, petrol and diesel - are quick wins. Working out ratings for travel and products will take longer but will not be impossible.
We must accept the concept of carbon emissions equity. Every adult on the planet would be issued with carbon emissions "quotas". These would be initially based on national average emissions, but would, over a few years, reduce down (or in the case of developing nations up) to the planet's absorption capacity. Then trading would commence and the market would decide on the value of carbon emissions. Our internet-based systems are easily capable of handling the process.
If I want to buy and run a large gas-guzzler, or fly to New York for the weekend that would be fine - but I would have to buy additional carbon credits in the marketplace.
Most adults in industrial countries have some kind of bank account. Having an additional "carbon account", with swipeable "carbon card" would hardly tax our major banking players. In developing countries accounts could be held by communities on behalf of local people.
In the short term the people who will benefit most will be the poorest in the world, who would be able to sell their carbon allocation to us in the west. In the long term the biggest winners will be our children and grandchildren who may be spared the horrors of an increasingly inhospitable world.
Sir: The report indicating we have 10 years before climate change becomes irreversible is timely, but suggested responses amount to fiddling while the earth burns. Our current consumption of fossil fuels is unsustainable and yet is set to grow inexorably as developing countries, in particular China and India, achieve the wealth of the west. To save the world's climate requires not that the west trims its fossil fuel consumption while the developing world's usage explodes, but that within a decade mankind generates its energy with no greenhouse waste.
Remarkably, a solution exists for fuelling power stations and hence national grids: nuclear fission. For running motor vehicles a research effort similar to the space race or the development of cell-phones will rapidly produce batteries or hydrogen-based fuel cells of sufficient capability.
The problems are less technical than political. Our politicians must create global treaties to help and force all countries to replace fossil fuel power stations with nuclear power stations, they must create a tax regime which expedites the development of fuel cell technology and which forces motor manufacturers to phase out the internal combustion engine, and they must ease the pain for countries dependent on oil exports, especially in the Middle East.
Environmentalist organisations must wake up to the reality that if they want to save the world rather than engage in gesture politics, they need to start promoting nuclear energy, and fast.
Sir: The future looks bleak. To avoid environmental catastrophe the nations of the world have to work together and adopt a sensible course of action; and this is not likely to occur. So what can we in Britain do to prepare for the inevitable problems?
The chief threat would appear to be sea-level rise; there might be some wild weather coming but that is surviveable, and one day the Gulf Stream may shut down, but that's a fairly distant prospect; the now problem is sea-level rise. What can we do to be prepared? Do we defend London or abandon it? We could start to move important executive offices to Manchester, or better still, Liverpool.
To exacerbate the problem of ice-melt which causes sea-level rise there is a slow tectonic movement in Britain which causes the South-east to subside and the North-west to rise. The tilt line runs roughly through middle England from Torbay to Hull; Leicester is just about on the pivot point.
The subsidence plus the ice-melt means double jeopardy for London. This would be a good moment for a detailed study of what will happen when the water gets into London. No good planning to move your office when the water is in the basement; do it now.
Professor IAN SMALLEY
Sir: Interesting theories from the Frenchman ("You British should learn to sit back and relax over a drink", letter, 24 January) but as an Englishman in France I see it rather differently. There is an aspect of French culture which is not conducive to binge drinking. After 10 years in France I have yet to go into a bar in which I wanted to stay long enough to get drunk. They have all the character of a college refectory. Beautiful old stone buildings with bland grey floor tiles, an easy-clean formica bar top and orange plastic chairs. Every Frenchman I know who has spent time in England is amazed at the relative opulence of our pubs and their wives complain about the difficulty of getting them out sober.
If you want to compare cultures try Belgium, where they love their pubs, drink vast quantities of rocket-fuel beer and do have a tendency (although not quite with the British self-destructive zeal) to get well oiled on an evening.
Sir: It is interesting to note the connection made between the levels of sound in bars and the consumption of drinks (letters, 21 January). The Musicians' Union has long held that disorder is reduced in premises featuring live music, where the provision of entertainment helps prevent boredom or aggravation and live performers are able to adapt their style and volume to audiences' and publicans' requirements.
The indiscriminate pumping out of loud recorded music discourages conversation and leads to faster consumption. An atmosphere of intimidation is too often a consequence. Who's going to hear you apologise when you knock into someone?
We're not party-poopers, though. Whoever knew a musician who didn't like a drink or two? Any music is preferable to continual silence in premises, where, research has shown, the instances of "who do you think you're looking at" are increased.
Recent events on the London Underground have shown the effect of music on behaviour. Piped classical music on certain District Line stations has led to a marked decrease in troublemakers hanging around, as the sounds are considered too "uncool"!
Musicians' Union, London SW9
Sir: The RSPCA welcomes the British Greyhound Racing Board's attempts to improve greyhound welfare and its support for the Animal Welfare Bill (letter, 21 January).
However, the Board has also given its support to a delay in an imposed licensing and registration scheme on all greyhound racing tracks until 2010. The RSPCA believes this is not soon enough. Action must be taken to improve conditions for the dogs at these unlicensed tracks as soon as possible - and well before this date.
We are completely opposed to the operation of unlicensed independent or "flapping" tracks where vets are not present. We are also concerned about the over-breeding of greyhounds for racing, the export of unwanted dogs and the recurrent difficulties in re-homing greyhounds once their racing career is over.
It is essential that the greyhound racing industry takes full responsibility for the welfare of greyhounds and takes immediate action to stamp out abuse - otherwise we'll be reading many more tragic stories like Rusty's.
Chief Veterinary Adviser, RSPCA
Horsham, West Sussex
Sir: Guy Keleny argues persuasively (or is it convincingly!) that just because the teaching of grammar in schools does not improve a pupil's writing skills, it does not follow that such teaching has no value (Errors and Omissions, 22 January).
But I was dismayed to read his pedantic and patronising rant about how people "should know better" than to misuse words like "laying" and "convincing". It is quite a cheek to correct the English of the poet Bob Dylan - he will be doubtless insist next that Bob refrain from saying "ain't".
And it may have once been the case that people did not use the word "convince" to mean "persuade". However, today, we do! What Keleny fails to understand is that language is constantly evolving. What irks me about these linguistic conservatives is their failure to realise that they themselves are using all manner of words and phrases in ways which would have been considered incorrect by their grandparents, and yet they feel qualified to bemoan the slipping standards of today's generation of English speakers.
Grammarians today consider their job to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Who has the right to tell everyone else that their version of the English language is "correct" and ours is "wrong"?
As a previous letter on this page pointed out, teachers of English as a foreign language are taught that if they use a particular language item they should teach it, instead of sticking to some archaic rule book.
Sir: A new Railways Bill will soon go before Parliament. Non-metropolitan and rival MPs should be alert to the damage entailed by the Bill as drafted by the Department for Transport under the direction of the Treasury.
Two provisions are especially threatening. Regional passenger committees are to be abolished in favour of a London-based council; users' groups point out that the Bill will permit line downgradings and even closures without public hearings. "Savings" from closures of secondary lines will be negligible in comparison with the costs of some main-line operations. A part of those costs is directly attributable to the Treasury's dismemberment of the system at privatisation.
Secondly, the Regulatory Board will be powerless if the Treasury refuses money for needs identified by the board. Refusals of improvements and impositions of cuts will hurt not only passengers but also rail freight companies. It is unjust of the Treasury to punish the system in consequence of a costly scheme of privatisation for which the Treasury was itself primarily responsible.
Railways have environmental merits. The Prime Minister has recently intoned upon the need to confront climate change. On the railways, however, as in so many other matters, he has difficulty in fitting deeds to words. Mr Blair is the man who before the 1997 election called for a "publicly owned and publicly accountable" railway system.
Professor GEORGE HUXLEY
Church Enstone, Oxfordshire
Sir: Bill Hagerty's piece on regulating journalism (24 January) needs a little regulating itself in respect of the caption for that marvellous photograph of my hero. Not Mr Deedes but Lord Deedes!
Sir: You correspondent Alan Clawley (25 January) decried how proportional representation is not considered appropriate by our "Mother of Parliaments". Westminster was not the first parliament. That honour goes to Thingvellir in Iceland, founded in the 10th century.
Sir: Each year I make the home-made family marmalade. There seems to be sorcery at work; I use the same quantity of ingredients, but every year the number of jars I produce gets larger. I've just cottoned on. The recycled jam/honey jars are getting smaller. The size used to be 1lb; now it is 12oz (disguised as 370g), but no cheaper. Is it commercial greed, or some EU rule? Or is it to help with our obesity problems?
Easingwold, North Yorkshire
Sir: M.D. Essinger (letter, 26 January) asks, as we all do, what went wrong, as he watches the fascinating Mitchell and Kenyon films on BBC2, with their cheerful crowds of Edwardians, very many of whom went on to their slaughter in the Pals' Battalions in the Battle of the Somme. That's the place to start looking.